Nowadays almost everybody has an idea what meditation is. Therefore there are a lot of conceptions about what should or has to happen during meditation. If that doesn’t occur during the first session(s), many conclude that (for them) it doesn’t work. Also people that meditate for some time often have an idea about when a session is ‘good’ or ‘not good’. Most people are looking for a kind of ‘zen-state’ in which all non-desirable influences disappear and everything is peaceful and calm. Or even that all thoughts and negative emotions stop. That’s not what meditation is though.
Whatever you experience during meditation is never ‘wrong’. Also if you are completely restless and in a storm of emotions. It is all about being able to observe what is and how you deal with it. It is not about how you feel and what you experience, it is about being able to objectively experience without reacting to it. With meditation you observe and change your relationship to what happens. That gives distance, relaxation, overview, balance and eventually mental freedom.
Meditation brings the focus inwards. Not to escape form the external world and circumstances, you turn inward to get to know and experience your internal better and learn to find you calm and balance there. By meditating you learn how your mind actually works. Something your parents and teachers generally didn’t explain to you. Also meditation teaches you how to work with it so you gain control over where your attention rests. That leads to more freedom of mind and prevents that your attention every time again is being kidnapped involuntarily by what happens in and round us. That doesn’t happen by tuning out or trying to push away or ignore things. With meditation you learn how to consciously and clearly observe what really happens and to gain control over your reaction to it. Meditation brings you to the most optimal starting point to, without unnecessary blur, loss of energy or distraction, create the best possible circumstances in life.
Meditation is pausing and seeing what is and happens in the now. You become less distracted because you learn to recognise and control your thoughts, feelings and associations to what is. Inner processes that normally lead to an automatic reaction to what you observe. Research at Harvard shows that people are on average distracted around half of the time (!) because of that. Meditation makes you more awake and aware in the moment and less distracted. You spend less time drifting off involuntary to associations with what is, memories of the past and expectations about the future. With that your brain activity decreases strongly and that directly leads to relaxation and overview. Meditation provides you also with structurally more mental balance and freedom. No luxury in the time and society we live in. Meditation strengthens your basis and therefor has many more positive effects that make your life easier and more pleasant.
The many positive effects found by science
More and more higher educated people in business use meditation as a means of increasing their productivity and coping better with stress. Top athletes in sport and elite military corps members use it for greater concentration, efficiency and performance capacity under pressure. For years now also doctors prescribe meditation programs like mindfulness to their patients. They do this because meditation works. That doesn’t only come from the tens of centuries of evidence in daily life, also modern scientific research has found a lot of beneficial effects of meditation the last decades. Here is a small indication of what has been found by science:
- Increased productivity
- Greater concentration capacity
- More creativity and insights
- More memory capacity
- Faster working brain
- Greater ability to stick with a task
- Less distraction
- Less errors
- Quicker decision making
- Less fatigue
- Smaller chance of sick leave
- Smaller chance of burn-out
- Less stress
- Better functioning immune system
- Delay of aging process
- More relaxation
- More energy
- Less need for sleep
- Clearer perception
- Greater ability to take in information
- Better coping with negative emotions
- More initiative
- Less feeling down
- More mental wellbeing
Meditation even changes the structure of the brain, which is already visible on MRI scans after four weeks of meditation (twenty minutes a day). On the Research page you can find many articles that supports all of these findings.
Meditation has a very wide range of positive effects. It leads to more peace of mind, relaxation, balance, energy and clarity, it delays the degenerative process of the cells in your body due to aging and even increases the level of happiness. How can a simple method have such a wide range of effects? This is because meditation strengthens your connection to your inner basis. When we experience a need for happiness, relaxation or energy, we got used to looking for solutions in external factors. Often that is in things like snacks, shopping, entertainment, tv, tablets or smartphones, ‘likes’, coffee, alcohol, sex or drugs. These fulfill the need only temporary and lead to an unfulfillable hunger and they satisfy mostly only on a certain aspect of life.
Things like happiness, peace of mind, balance, health, creativity and energy come from within. External factors can maybe trigger these internal experiences or processes, they don’t poses qualities like ‘happiness’, ‘balance’ or ´relaxation’ themselves. If you go to the source where they come from, you get access to them whenever you want.
Attention for your inner world also nourishes your whole system and all facets of life. Just like external factors like rain and sunshine only reach certain branches and leafs of the tree, everything that comes through the roots nourishes every branch and every leaf of the tree. Meditation works on the roots of your system and therefore has such a broad range of effects. And this without any side effects or big investments.
Meditation is being present
There are countless different forms, methods and techniques of meditation and even more descriptions of what meditation is. Meditation comes down to being present with what is, without judging or analysing it, being fully present with just that what is there in this moment. With that you bring your ‘head’ to where your body is, the body that is always in the here and now. The ‘head’ tends to wander off regularly to the things that happen externally, which you can perceive through your senses, or internally by thoughts and feelings.
That this happens very often is shown by research at the University of Harvard. In 2010 researchers found that the average human being spends 47% of their time with their attention distracted in thoughts or feelings. That’s almost half your day!
If you are more often ‘present’ you have a better overview and get more done in a day. This is what you train by meditation. During meditation there are actually only two options; or you are ‘present’, or you are distracted. If you are aware of what is happening you are meditating, if you are distracted you are not meditating. The goal of meditation is not to eliminate distraction. It is to notice your being distracted better and faster so it bothers you less. Just as the body becomes stronger and more flexible through sports, so can meditation do this for your mind. By training the mind you will inevitably notice that you become less distracted. Experience more meditation moments during your meditation session and are also outside of that more aware.
Easy or difficult to not do anything?
Meditation should be the easiest thing there is. It is nothing more than just relaxing and being present with what is and happens at this moment, right? Even the meditation instruction is easy: ‘stay with your attention with what is and happens now and try to prevent getting distracted’. Just as with tightrope walking, where the instruction is easy to understand as well (‘just walk over the line to the other side and try not to fall’), the being consciously present with the here and now turns out to be extremely difficult.
This is because we are used and programmed to ‘doing’ nowadays. Are there any moments in your day that you don’t do anything? Every small free moment nowadays is filled up with doing something, like reading, eating, tidying, watching television or checking our smartphone. Look around you in a waiting room, at a red traffic light or in line at the supermarket. Real relax mentally relaxation has become very rare.
This doesn’t only influence your relaxation and ability to relax, it also shortens your attention span and ability to concentrate, which is a growing problem nowadays. The real problem is not, however, in our capacity to concentrate. Almost everybody can sit for an hour in front of a screen being completely focused on the exiting film or serie they are watching. Also it is no problem to concentrate for a long period of time while checking our social media or browsing YouTube. The problem is to control the attention. We are very easily distracted when our attention isn’t captured by something interesting. While working or studying we notice very easily how short our attention span can be. This tendency is growing and conditions such as ADHD and burn-out are most probably linked to that.
Not a lot of people are capable of pointing and maintaining their attention wherever they want it to be. How much control we actually have over where our focus is, becomes very clear when our smartphone makes a sound. How able are you to stay undistracted with your attention focused on the task at hand? And try to close your eyes and stay focused on something for just one minute without wandering off with your thoughts… You’ll notice this is almost impossible!
Our attention is often ‘abducted’ by what happens in and around us. It makes us drift off to memories or scenarios of the past, expectations about the future or scenarios associated with what is happening at this very moment. The stimuli that take our attention away from what is happening, will continue to come and go. You cannot make them stop coming. What you can do is to approach them differently. By improving your control over your attention, you can let them be what they are and they won’t take you away anymore. In this way you can create calmness and space for yourself and you get access to inner balance and freedom. This is what regular meditation does.
Like a block of ice in the ocean
The most beautiful and clear metaphor I know about what happens in meditation, is the one of the block of ice in the ocean. Imagine yourself as a block of ice floating around in the wide waters. Waves create continuous movement. Sometimes the waves are strong, there is a storm and are the ocean is rough. Sometimes the ocean is fairly calm. It is never completely still though.
You can compare the waves in the ocean with the movements in your mind. Also your perceptions through the senses, your emotions and your thoughts will always come and never stop completely. They emerge from it and disappear in it again. And just as the waves influence the surface of the water, so the movements in your mind can influence your inner calmness and peace of mind.
By meditation you let all the waves, the movements in your mind, simply be what they are and you slowly sink past the restless superficial layer towards the deeper parts. There you find calmness. The waves are still there, you can even still see and perceive them. But the movements at the surface have no real influence on you anymore and the deeper you go, the more you experience this. Even in the case of a storm, you remain in a state of calmness, stability, space and freedom. An experience that anybody who has ever dived into the sea will probably recognise. Everybody who has meditated for some time will be familiair with this situation as well.
To take in the experience of this metaphore can be a meditation itself. Experience how it is to sink into the depth, something that you don’t have to do anything for and just can let it happen by itself. To sink below the internal and external turmoil and daily disturbances. When you reach a calm place in your mind, rest there for a bit and let everything just be for what it is. No wave of restlesness has influence on you anymore and you just experience the calm and spaciousness around you.
Learn to control the mind by meditating
Through meditation you learn how to gain control over where your bring your attention and how to rest it there. With that you get control over your state of mind. The more you practise it, the more you are able to maintain present with whatever really is. Just like with physical training you will notice it also affects how fit you feel in your daily life such as when you walk up stairs or bike to your work, by meditating you’ll notice to be more aware, clear and mentally free in your daily life as well.
Meditation is breaking free of strong habits. A lot of people start without proper explanations though and often even with that misconceptions about what to expect during a session. That makes meditation not very easy. Learning yourself how to handle a tennis racket, speak a language or drive a car, can be successful, it is doubtful though that you apply the most optimal technique. Under the guidance of an experienced instructor or coach, you will obtain that. With that you will book the most progression and within a few sessions already positive results.
Discover here which meditation training we can provide you with!